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by Alan Ranta

9 Mar 2009

I think Ghostly International described the latest video from 2008’s Alpinisms best themselves:

“In School of Seven Bells music, a human element lurks behind a veil of technology and noise; Toby Holbrook’s video for the Brooklyn trio’s ‘Half Asleep’ follows suit, depicting real-life twin vocalists Alejandra and Claudia Deheza as earthbound beauties, while complicating their image through sped-up film, gauzy overlays, and brightly colored, weather-like disturbances. The clip conjures a sad, surreal feeling that sticks with you long after the images fade.”

by Matt White

9 Mar 2009

Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s forthcoming album Beware is out on March 17th (the 16th in the UK) and here’s a music video for one of its songs, “I Am Goodbye”. The track is very country with it’s fiddle and banjo and it’s also very good. The video is simple but effective with Oldham strolling the city streets, singing.

by Rob Horning

9 Mar 2009

At 3 Quarks Daily, Asad Raza responds to philosophy professor Dennis Dutton’s The Art Instinct, a book that attempts to explain the existence of art in terms of evolutionary psychology. This thesis is probably important to argue if you have some stake in evolutionary psychology, less so if you are interested in art. Without having read the book, I can’t see how it can be useful for anything other than attempting to derive a depoliticized and faux-universal aesthetic. Art serves political functions; the sexual selection it may help facilitate is political as well—the signaling occurs within a given class structure and serve to reproduce it or react against it. Attention to the evolutionary aspect of artmaking (which ultimately strip the history out of art history; i.e. the stuff about art that is actually interesting beyond the sensual pleasure it gives) seems likely to divert attention away from the political aspects of aesthetics, which ideology about the supremacy and autonomy of individual taste already makes it difficult to perceive.

Raza points out some of the inherent problems of attempting to deduce the evolutionary significance of some supposedly universal tastes in art, focusing particularly on Dutton’s assertion that landscape painting derives from early humankind’s predilection for savannahs:

Your first chapter cites a survey finding that human beings are attracted to a certain type of landscape, which you point out resembles the most habitable savanna landscapes of the Pleistocene: “a landscape with trees and open areas, water, human figures, and animals.”  You hypothesize that people are attracted to such landscapes innately, and that is why calendars tend to feature them.  When we are pleased by such a landscape, you conclude magisterially, “we confront remnants of our species’ ancient past.”

Raza points out that this is an extremely short-sighted account of the variety of landscape painting the world has produced.

Obviously, some landscape painting is meant to be beautiful and thus pleasurable, especially in European painting between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.  But just because this particular genre of painting (lasting only ten generations or so) has some analogues in Eastern painting does not establish, to my satisfaction at least, that humans innately take pleasure in such pictures.  To the contrary, most forms of painting, including that which decorates the caves in Lascaux, do not depict perspectival landscapes.  Also, much landscape painting does not produce pleasure but fear and awe (think of Friedrich, or Turner).  Isn’t it just as likely that landscapes with a certain prospective view, from high ground, with sublime natural features such as high mountains at a safe distance, but with an enticingly serpentine river or path winding from foreground to background, producing a sense of exploration and travel, became popular when they did for historical reasons?  And, having become popular, were later spread around the world, after technologies for the mass reproduction of images were invented, in the lowbrow form of calendars?  Finally, even if you had a strong scientific case as to why humans take pleasure in looking at certain kinds of landscapes, that doesn’t explain why paintings of such landscapes have at some times in some places been considered art, which does not mean simply pleasurable things—what you are arguing for (a love of calendar landscapes) might be better called “The Kitsch Instinct.”

Regardless of the alleged science behind the pursuit of universal taste, one ends up with an effort to reject the plurality and particularity of actual aesthetics in action, and what purposes they serve and effects they have in a given sociohistorical moment, in favor of generalizations that efface history. Such critics have to generalize and universalize their own sentimentality under a series of scientific veils and recondite justifications. But that generalization inevitably results in kitsch, which is dehistorisized aesthetics. Kitsch is perhaps the only “universal” taste out there—it is what one is inevitably left with when one is prone to generalizing about what pleases everybody.

by Lana Cooper

9 Mar 2009

Hollywood Undead group photo

Hollywood Undead group photo

A mixture of rock and rap (while deftly avoiding the “nu metal” ethos of almost a decade ago), Hollywood Undead are deveoloping a rapidly growing fanbase with the release of their debut album, Swan Songs.  The group’s first single, “Undead”, was featured in the Super Bowl commercial for the upcoming G.I. Joe film. 

Bringing hip-hop’s love for their hometown to the table along with metal angst and hair-metal’s penchant for good times, Hollywood Undead’s sound is as unique as their look.  Keeping their identities secret beneath masks (à la Slipknot), Hollywood Undead are arguably one of the most interesting and exciting acts to hit the scene in years.

by Mike Deane

9 Mar 2009

In the early ‘90s, music videos had come into their own, and were big-budget marketing tools to solidify a band’s image and to help sell albums.  Jodeci have always been a mystery to me.  I’ve never been a big fan, but one night when watching all of their videos in a row, I realized that there’s a lot going on in ‘90s R&B other than the Boyz II Men syruppy slop. 

Jodeci were of the late-new jack swing era, which meant that they were producing more hard R&B songs as well as the sappy and slow softies. The videos that are representative of these two types of songs are the super-sensitive sounds of “Forever My Lady” and the weirdo, tougher but still sensitive sounds of “Feenin’”. This write-up is less to figure out what was going on with Jodeci at the time, or to figure out something about ‘90s culture, and is instead just to draw attention to the art of the ‘90s R&B video. 

“Forever My Lady” begins with soft lighting and contains the two main settings for the video: the sea side and some sort of cathedral or bath house.  It’s a great mix and what makes things even better are the costumes. It happens a lot with videos from past decades, when you wonder about the appeal of the fashion. In this first part of the video, the Jodeci boys are all wearing: white hats, white button-up sports jackets, white shorts, and black combat boots with white socks poking out above them. There’s nary a shirt to be seen.

The song focuses around typical sensitive ‘90s R&B themes of love, family and total devotion. Serious stand-outs for the video involve K-Ci skipping a rock into the ocean, K-Ci’s hand movements that mime the lyrics he’s singing, and Devante’s (I think that’s Devante) air-keytar solo at the end. He continues the keytar solo from ocean to cathedral, and back.

“Feenin” is way different and though it also hits with some muscular R&B, there are darker elements. The song focuses around how love can be so strong and addictive that you essentially become a drug fiend.  The drug fiend depicted in the video though is more like someone with serious mental problems that has been committed, and now lives in a padded room - there’s even a shot of one of the members, or an extra, wearing a diaper.

This video makes the mistake of trying to become some sort of narrative video, as shown during the star-studded poker game which attempts to explain the concept of “Feenin”.  Snoop Dog provides some very unnecessary advice (though Snoop is just making a cameo, Jodeci had other star affiliations with Missy Elliott and Timbaland both involved with the group before the song kicks into a heavy rock intro.

The song then gets into its proper form, strong drums with a really amazing sounding snare, and K-Ci’s singing providing a narrative while the video switches between scenes of him in what is possibly hell (or blacksmith forge), and in an insane asylum.

The video is half-horror movie and half-mistaken ideas about what an insane asylum might be.

Some real highlights are Suge Knight as an orderly bringing in food, the aforementioned man in a diaper, the group sing-along around the piano in the padded music room, and the topless escape scene at the end where they rip all of the padding from the walls.

Overall, I’m not really sure what these videos say about anything, or whether they do say anything, they more show the music video at one of its most confused and weird times.  The budget was there to make a big video, but people didn’t quite seem know how to do it.  A big budget just meant a couple of more costume changes and renting expensive sets.  Jodeci really took it to a weird level, and these two videos are entertaining examples.  Though for the most part it’s a good thing that the big-business music industry is failing, the one thing I’ll miss most is absurd and large scale music videos.  Animal Collective and Chairlift have shown how you can make amazing videos with a small budget, but the excessive nature of major label music videos in the ‘90s was something special.

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